Change. Whether you’re implementing insurance agency management software for the first time or moving from one software platform to another, you’re engaged in change. And change can be hard.
Change can be uncomfortable. You may realize the need to improve the way you run your health insurance agency. After all, that’s why you’re shopping for a CRM or agency management system. However, you and your team are used to doing business a certain way. And that way is, usually, familiar and comfortable.
There is also that pesky “change takes time” thing. You’re in the insurance business, not the software business. You have prospects and clients to attend to. You have insurance carrier reps to talk to. Products to learn. Employees to train. When it comes to priorities, learning new software will rarely be at the top of your list.
So, how do you make change?
For an insightful, in-depth dive into the subject, you may want to read Switch: Making Change When Change is Hard by Chip and Dan Health. It’s entertaining, helpful and well worth your time.
In the meantime, however, here’s three lessons I’ve learned in the past 30 years of developing and implementing sales software. During that time I’ve engaged in new technologies at health insurance agencies, general agencies, health insurance carriers, and insurtech start-ups (like NextAgency). Given that this is a NextAgency blog, I’m focusing on implementing insurance agency management software. But the lessons apply to any change — buying new equipment, entering new markets, selling a new product and so on.
Lesson 1: Appoint a Champion
Implementing new software requires everyone in your insurance agency to be involved. Your entire team needs to make time for training. They need to use the new agency management system so that the data is current and stays relevant. However, you can make things easier for everyone by appointing a change champion. This individual is on point, leading the effort to implement your new software. Others can procrastinate (a bit), but not your champion. Your champion works with the software vendor’s success team (like our NextConcierge group). Your champion schedules training, helps other find training videos and helpful articles. They offer encouragement to others and pay attention to progress. They’re the go-to person in your agency others talk to when they have questions.
Without a champion, everyone has plenty of excuses. “I have other things to do.” “This isn’t my job.” “I haven’t been trained.” Change champions, however, cuts through the excuses. She answers questions. She provides an example. She gets things done. Whether you are implementing new agency management software or adding a new product line, someone needs to lead the charge. And as the agency owner, it’s your obligation to appoint — and support — that champion.
Lesson 2: Embrace Frustration
Even bad habits can feel familiar and secure. By definition change — and change — forces people out of their comfort zone. Change demands a learning curve. The status quo does not. The learning process can be frustrating simply because it’s different. “Why is that button blue? In our old system it was orange.” “Why is search field on the right instead of the left?” “Why do I have to enter my notes in the software instead of on a Post-it?” You get the idea.
This frustration is natural — and even helpful. It shows your team is thinking about what they’re doing. It’s part of the process of developing new habits. And it’s very human. Does it matter whether a button is blue or orange? Probably not. But you’re moving your team out of their comfort zone and they’re annoyed. Expect frustration and know it will pass. In a few weeks, the change becomes the status quo.
Lesson 3: Choose Flexibility
Some change is needed. Some is not. If you’re successful enough to consider insurance agency management software, you’re doing something right. So why would you change what’s working? Learning new software is one thing. Abandoning what’s made you successful is another thing altogether.
Instead, choose software (or hardware) that helps you do what you do — just in a more effective and efficient way. You know, software like NextAgency. We designed NextAgency for health and life insurance agencies. We know, however, that every agency is different. Which is why we made NextAgency flexible. So you can personalize the platform for your agency.
Change is Inevitable
In today’s reality, change is inevitable. Laws change. Products change. Client expectations and needs change. Insurance agencies who pretend the status quo is permanent will lose. This is why agency management systems more agencies are adopting software like NextAgency every month.
Given that insurance agencies like yours — you know, the ones that will be around for the long-term — will adapt, make the change process easier. You can do that by 1) appointing a champion; 2) embracing frustration; and 3) choosing flexibility.
NextAgency saves health and life insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system featuring CRM and commission management tools. Please visit www.NextAgency.com to learn more. And to see NextAgency in action, please sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.
Take any two health insurance agencies. Or life insurance agency. Or Medicare agency. They may look alike to an outsider. However, I guarantee you, they’re not.
Insurance agencies have their own skill sets. They have their own way of doing things. In short, each insurance agency is unique.
This benefits consumers. They can find the insurance agent that is their best fit. Perhaps that’s why life and health agencies thrive in the face of online alternatives, unlike what happened in other industries. Travel agencies, you have our deepest condolences.
Who’s the boss? You or your software?
Which raises an interesting question. Why does insurance agency software treat you like you’re all the same? Too many technology platforms seem to be designed from the top down. The software company decides “This is best practice. It’s our way or the highway.” They demand their users adapt to the software
NextAgency is different. We built NextAgency to, as much as possible, adapt to the way you work. In short, we’re flexible insurance agency software. You know, the kind of software you need.
NextAgency delivers an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools, We built the software specifically for insurance agencies selling and servicing health, life, senior and similar policies. But we know each agency is unique. Generic software requires a lot of customization. NextAgency is built for insurance agencies. There’s no need to configure NextAgency to your business. You can use NextAgency straight out of the box. OK, we’re cloud-based software so there’s no real box. We’re talking metaphors here.
We made NextAgency flexible
We’re saying NextAgency works for benefit agencies as is. However, you can personalize NextAgency to an amazing degree. Yes, we have insurance policy templates. But you can edit them or create your own. You can even create templates for non-insurance products. And sure, we provide a host of fields to capture data about your prospects and clients. Yet you can add custom fields — as many as like. Our commission management tools are considered among the best around. However, feel free to track additional compensation information.
You get the idea. You don’t have to personalize NextAgency. But you can.
A lot of health insurance agencies are looking for software to help them grow. They want to organize client data, keep their commitments, manage their commissions, and, well, work smarter. You may be one of them. If so, ask any software company you consider about their flexibility. Do they offer a one-size fits all solution? Or can you adjust the fit like you can with NextAgency?
Building flexible insurance agency software isn’t easy. But we find it worth the effort. Because the result is an agency management system that doesn’t change the way you do business. Rather, our software helps you do your business your way, just better.
And isn’t that what your software should do?
NextAgency saves insurance agencies time, money and clients with a powerful, modern agency management system. To learn more please visit us at www.NextAgency.com and sign-up for a free demonstration at one of our regular webinars.
Congratulations. You’ve signed-up with NextAgency. (At least, I hope you have. And so should you!). Now you want to get your client data into your new software. Immediately. I don’t blame you. The sooner you start using your new agency management system, the sooner you’ll have a more effective and efficient agency.
Yet, may I suggest you pause first to do a little planning? Thinking about how you want to organize your client data before uploading it will help you get the most out of NextAgency (or any similar software). This post offers a simple way to do that. And the minutes you spend in planning now may save you hours later.
Definitions and Structure
Insurance agents use a lot of terms. Sometimes different words for the same thing. Which can get pretty confusing. So, for the purpose of this post, let’s agree on the following:
Cases are your customers and potential customers. They may be individuals or groups. Active or inactive. Leads, prospects, or clients. These are the people and organizations that buy coverage from you – or who you hope will buy coverage from you.
Market Segments describes whether the policy or product your selling is for individuals or groups. To determine the market segment, ask “Who pays the premium?”
In NextAgency we provide three market segments: individual, small group and large group. For technical reasons, the market segment options are one of the few items that cannot be edited.
Sales Statuses defines your relationship to the case. Is it someone who you already work with or someone you hope to work with? To determine sales status ask “What is this case to my agency?”
In NextAgency we start you off with two sales statuses: prospects and clients. For many agencies this is enough. However, you may add as many other statuses as you want.
For example, some of our agencies sell benefits and other products (like P&C or payroll services). Several have created a sales status for each product line (for example, “Client-Benefits,” “Client-Payroll” and“Client-Multiple”).
Sales Stages describe where the case is in your world. Stages vary depending on a case’s status. For example, you may be trying to reach a prospect for the first time or you may be showing them a proposal. Your clients may be doing fine or they may be having a service problem. To determine sales stages ask, “What is happening with this case?”
You can group stages into processes – sometimes called pipelines. We provide some default pipelines, as identified by the color associated with each stage. Again, however, you can quickly edit these or make your own.
Fine-tuning Statuses and Stages
Knowing the questions to ask enables us to begin shaping how our case data is organized. After all, you know your block of business well enough to anticipating the kind of answers you’ll get to these questions. You can use this knowledge to choose the statuses and stages that work best for your agency. Let’s see how.
Market Segment: Who pays the premium? Either an individual or an organization of some kind. Whether an organization is a “small group” or “large group” is for you to decide. Just be consistent.
Sales Status: What is this case to my agency? If the case is already a client, do you have different kinds of clients? For example, are you a sub-agent of another agency on some cases? Or do ever act as GA? You may want to have separate statuses for each type of client. Or you may want to distinguish between hot and cold prospects. Choose the statuses that make the most sense for your agency.
Sales Stages: What is happening with this case? If everything is going well with a client, everyone on your team should know. Similarly, if a client is having a service issue, your team needs to know that, too. For prospects, your team should know if an appointment has been set or if the case is in the process of enrolling.
About active versus inactive cases: There’s a difference of opinion among NextAgency’s brokers as to whether “active” versus “inactive,” (or “closed” or “termed”) should be a status or a stage. There’s no right answer. By default, NextAgency includes active and closed as stages. However, if you prefer to use them as statuses, it only takes a minute to make that change. Active/Inactive are one of the few items that can go in either category
Keep it Simple
At NextAgency, making it easy to personalize our agency management system is an important part of our design philosophy. Which means we’ve seen a lot of agencies organize their case data in different ways. There’s no single approach that’s right for every health, life or senior insurance agency. And that’s fine.
However, there is one lesson that comes through regardless of how the data is organized: keep it simple. This is especially true with sales statuses. Some agencies tend to get extremely granular with this list. Yet there’s no need.
That’s because there are dozens of built-in fields to help you understand your cases. And you can create as many custom fields as you like. If you want to assign each case a Dewey Decimal System number, go for it. (Although really?) But you don’t have to create dozens of sales statuses. And you probably don’t need dozens.
Keeping it simple means everyone in your agency will understand how your case data is organized. This means everyone will be entering the data consistently. They’ll be able to quickly find what they need. And new hires will find it easier to get up to speed.
Best of all, you can adjust things down the road. The simpler you structure your data in the beginning, however, the faster you’ll get up-and-running. Which means the sooner you’ll be saving time, money and clients.
NextAgency is an agency management system with CRM and commission management tools for health, senior and life agencies. Our goal is to help agents and brokers save time, money and clients. To learn more, please visit www.NextAgency.com.
Making promises to prospects and client is easy. Keeping them can be harder. Yet following through on commitments you make to clients is critical to sales success. That’s why we’re pleased to introduce Timelines in NextBroker. With Timelines’ personalized, powerful to-do lists, commitments don’t fall through the cracks.
Follow Through is Hard, but Matters
Typically a client calls with a problem and your agency commits to help resolve it. Hopefully, you also promise to provide a progress report on a date certain. Keeping clients informed of what’s happening can relieve anxiety and demonstrates your customer service chops.
Failing to provide that update, however, can make matters worse. Your client initially was concerned about their service problem. Now they’re disappointed your agency failed to follow through. Even when you solve their problem, that disappointment may linger.
Most of us don’t make promises intending not to keep them. (Most of us don’t work in Washington, DC). The problem is you have lots of commitments to fulfill and keeping them is just part of what you do in a day. Keeping track of all the balls you’re juggling can be hard. John Lennon wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” The corollary is that work keeps happening when you’re trying to work.
Yet fulfilling commitments is vital to sales success. That was a (not particularly surprising) finding in research I conducted on what separates successful health insurance brokers from their less accomplished colleagues. In the book that came out of this study, Trailblazed: Proven Paths to Sales Success, I describe this trait as sales professionalism –being worthy of clients’ trust and reliance in your abilities and expertise.
Without this trust, closing sales is harder, renewing cases is difficult, getting referrals is nearly impossible. Prospects and clients are apt to leave when a more trustworthy advisor comes along. Having the trust of your clients matters. Failing to fulfill your commitments undermines trust. It really is that simple.
So how does NextAgency help you keep your clients’ trust? Glad you asked.
NextBroker Introduces Timelines
NextBroker helps you keep your commitments. (As a reminder, NextBroker is the agency management component of NextAgency). One way we do this is through tasks — and tasks in this context is a synonym for promises. Within a task you can set due dates and reminders. You can prioritize them, assign them to others on your team, add files and much more.
With NextBroker you can also export your tasks to your Outlook or Google Calendar. From there the task syncs with your phone. This approach is a big step in keeping commitments out of those proverbial cracks. Deadlines are easy to keep when your reminded of them by your agency management system, desktop calendar and phone.
Now we do more. A few weeks ago, we added Timelines to NextBroker. Timelines are powerful, personalized to-do lists for you and every member of your team. You see all your tasks in one place and can focus on what you need to know. Today’s tasks are a click away. So are tomorrow’s or any date range you specify. Want to see the progress on tasks you assigned to colleagues? Simple. Want to see the tasks your partner assigned to you? Easy.
Client trust is too precious to assign to Post-it notes and scraps of paper. So we made it simple to create Timelines. Just capture your client commitments as tasks within NextBroker. We do the rest for you.
Making promises is easy. With NextBroker Timelines, keeping them just got a whole lot easier.
Attend a NextAgency demonstration to See how NextBroker Timelines can help you keep your commitments. Register today for an upcoming webinar at https://meetme.so/NextAgency.
If you have clients that meet the Affordable Care Act’s definition of a “large group,” they may soon receive an unwelcome letter from the Internal Revenue Service — if they haven’t already. This Letter 226J informs these groups that they may be liable for an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment (ESRP) based on a discrepancy between what the group submitted to the IRS in 1094-C and 1095-C forms for the 2015 tax year and the individual income tax returns filed by some of the group’s employees for that tax year.
If your client gets this letter they’re likely to be … confused and perhaps a bit unsettled. Since they’ll figure out the letter involves their benefit plans they’ll soon be calling you.
What’s going on here? And what are you supposed to do about it?
Before we answer those questions a caveat: this post is not providing legal advice. Consult your lawyer for that. Instead, think of this article as a heads-up: expect calls from some of your larger clients (because you’re not busy enough in the fourth quarter). When those calls come in you’ll want to be ready.
What’s Going on Here
Remember the ACA’s employer mandate to offer health care coverage to their employees? This requirement creates an opportunity for employers to pay-or-play. If they offer qualifying coverage, great. If they don’t, they are required to make an Employer Shared Responsibility Payment. An ESRP is government-speak for “hefty fine.”
Groups demonstrate they chose to play and provided coverage when they 1094-C and 1095-C with the Internal Revenue Service. If the group’s workers income tax filings show they had no qualifying coverage when employed by the firm, however, a flag gets raised deep in an IRS basement somewhere (figuratively speaking). The raising of this flag triggers an IRS Letter 226J to your client
When it comes to determining if your client is subject to an ESRP, size matters. So does timing. Originally the large group employer mandate was to take effect in 2014. The Obama Administration, however, postponed enforcement until the 2015 tax year for groups of 100 or more full time equivalent employees (FTEs). Groups of 50 or more FTEs needed to comply with the mandate in 2016. FTEs is different than a simple headcount of full-time employees. FTEs take into account hours worked by employees working part-time or for part of the year.
This means groups with 100 or more FTEs in 2015 were required to provide qualifying coverage or pay a fine. Letters concerning that fine are going out now. In 2016, clients with 50 or more FTEs will be subject to this requirement. That means in 2018 even more IRS letters are likely to flow out of that basement. And that, in turn, means more unsettled clients.
What You Are Supposed to Do About It
If the terms like ESRP, FTE, 1094-C and the like sound like gibberish to you, don’t worry. Most acronyms sound like gibberish. But that doesn’t mean you don’t need to get educated about them. Now. Fortunately, that’s a relatively straightforward process.
If you’re a member of the National Association of Health Underwriters, head over to NAHU’s Compliance Corner. There’s a plethora of information there. You can also submit questions on the site and have them answered by HR professionals. If you’re not a NAHU member, join today. Access to the tools and resources in the NAHU Compliance Corner alone is worth the membership fee (and membership gets you so much more).
Even if you consider yourself an ACA pro, NAHU’s resources are invaluable. So is information available on the IRS site. They offer a clear explanation of the explanation of the Letter 226-J and a useful guide to the employer mandate, including a guide for calculating FTEs.
Several companies specialize in supporting insurance professionals and their clients with expert benefit advice and help in navigating the ACA. Ask your colleagues and peers for recommendations. Just a word of caution: some vendors will try to tie you into multi-year, expensive contracts. Be careful, you’re looking for answers to benefit questions and that shouldn’t require such a long-term commitment.
When your clients receiving an IRS Letter 226J call you, remember, you’re an insurance professional, not an attorney or CPA. Channel your inner Doctor McCoy and inform them of this reality. (Unless, of course, you are an attorney or CPA in which case, proceed at your own risk).
The point is, be careful of offering advice — and accepting liability — you’re not qualified to provide. When you get the call, your job is to calm your client, let them know this is happening across the country, and reassure them you’re happy to work with their tax advisor. Then encourage them to call that tax advisor, share the letter, and give that adviser your contact information.
As a rule, letters from the IRS are rarely fun and Letter 226Js are not the exception to that rule. They will require you to put in some additional effort. That’s OK. Providing service to your clients is a critical part of what professional insurance brokers do. Arm yourself with an understanding of this area of the law and take your own advice: stay calm.